Frankie Boyle: Did you ever wonder what you'd be doing during an apocalypse?

4th April 2020

2020 began with Australia on fire and a billion animals dead. It’s sobering to think that will be the feel-good story of the year. Remember at the beginning of the year when Rod Stewart lamped a security guard and Justin Bieber announced that he had Lyme disease? Dizzying times: it genuinely felt like the world was a wonderful place to be. For many of you, it will have been surprising to learn what was expected of you during an apocalypse. You always wondered whether you would be fleeing; fortifying a bunker; or camping on a motorway roundabout. Turns out you’re working from home. Trying to get a spreadsheet about bodybags finished before the provisional deadline of your own death.

Mistakes have been made in the handling of the crisis. Like flying the Buckingham Palace flag at half mast when the Queen’s not in, which is just an advert for burglars. In my local park, someone has tried to cheer people up by chalking “You Got This!” on the ground. Literally the last thing you want to hear in a pandemic. There have also been a variety of embarrassing attempts by famous people to boost morale. If celebrities want to keep our spirits up, they should accept that what would raise those spirits the most is to see a couple of them really lose it big time.

We’ve all developed our little coping strategies. One easy way to completely remove the urge to visit your family is simply to put up Christmas decorations.

The streets were full people who normally only leave their homes to vote for fascism

Glaswegian men have found it more tricky to stay two metres apart than most, what with so many unable to keep even a hundred away from an ex. Here, news of a pandemic seemed to energise the elderly: the streets were full people who normally only leave their homes to vote for fascism. Before the lockdown, old people in Glasgow, apparently determined to flood the housing market with cheap bungalows, looked like they had formed a search party to go and find the coronavirus. It was sinister just to catch sight of an old person in the distance: much like the feeling you get when you see an antelope in a nature documentary and know it’s not going to end well. I’m sure we all know fatalists from the older generation who are saying things like, “If I get it, I get it. There’s no point trying to avoid it.”  Some of these people lived through the Blitz, and were presumably mental back then as well. While everyone was hunkered down in Anderson shelters in the dead of night listening to the Luftwaffe passing overhead, your grandad was probably up on the roof testing his Christmas lights.

What have we learned so far? Well, maybe best not to vote for people who think of you as a “herd”. The government’s response to the crisis reminds me, more than anything, of that bit in Apocalypse Now when Kurtz asks “Are my methods unsound?” and Willard replies “I don’t see any method at all, sir”. In early briefings Boris Johnson would pull a concerned face, to show that he is a serious person. Unfortunately, the face he pulls when he tries to look like a serious person is the sort of face that an actual serious person pulls to show that they are confused. In many ways, if the whole cabinet are killed by a virus just after their election victory, it will pretty much be the ending of The War of the Worlds. The designated survivor, Dominic Raab, who seems to instantaneously develop every symptom of the disease whenever he’s asked to read out a press release, looks like the very man to lead us right over the lip of the volcano.

Instead of posting the letter I’m surprised Johnson hasn’t committed to coughing his filthy news through our letterboxes in person

The Prime Minister has written to every household in the UK. As that letter lands on the doormat, I won’t be the only one who’ll be picking it up with a couple of snooker cues, like a contestant on a Japanese game show. I’m assuming these letters are being sent directly from Whitehall – ground zero of our nations complete failure to comply with social distancing rules. Instead of posting the letter I’m surprised Johnson hasn’t committed to coughing his filthy news through our letterboxes in person. He also sent a text message to every mobile phone in the UK. For a handful of children in Britain that’ll have been the first contact they’ve had from their dad. I suspect Johnson’s baby will be exhausted when it comes out. Having spent months evading his cock like a magician’s assistant dodging swords in a box.

We will soon get back to full employment. As the government’s lack of planning means anyone tested negative can spend 10-hour shifts blowing into the mouths of the infected as a human respirator. We’re seeing exhibition centres in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow converted into temporary hospitals and morgues. Which has a certain logic: if you’ve ever been to watch a band at one you’ll know they’re among the most sterile places in the UK. For many who don’t get a call back from Tesco there awaits a summer job bagging cadavers, and at the end of the shift being charged six quid for a short measured pint of flat Carlsberg served in a plastic tumbler. We should be affording the NHS staff and patients a level of dignity in these worrying times. It’s distressing enough to be told that you’re being put on a ventilator, we shouldn’t be adding to that by having the news broken by a doctor wearing a Spiderman mask and boxing gloves.

When Toby Young pops up on my TV, I can’t be the only person in the country who involuntary coughs at the screen

Toby Young questioned whether there was an economic case for preserving the lives of the elderly and vulnerable, and at least showed a certain honesty by politically aligning himself with a deadly virus. There’s still a question mark over whether any virus would want to be associated with Toby Young, and at the time of writing both Ebola and AIDS have sought to distance themselves from his remarks. When Toby Young pops up on my TV, I can’t be the only person in the country who involuntary coughs at the screen. Of course, this villainous kneecap is so hated by everyone in the country that he’s the only man who hasn’t seen his lifestyle change since social distancing was introduced. At least now when people cross the road when they see him, he can pretend there’s a more upbeat reason. Toby Young has always embodied contradictions, even if simply by being interested in eugenics while looking like an unviable foetus. In this case, you have to wonder how he can be against trashing the economy for the sake of people who have a year or two left to live, while still supporting Brexit.

Now seems as good a time as any to wonder what are Labour for. Since the election, it seems like they’re a way for the Houses of Parliament to save money by not installing heating; essentially meat radiators. I’m not saying the Labour leadership election went on too long, but human civilisation ended in the middle of it. Keir Starmer seems to be viewed as “electable” by Labour members largely because he looks like someone playing a Prime Minister in an old Spice Girls video. He will certainly provide a strong opposition to satire: he is difficult to joke about, in the same way that it is difficult to write jokes about brown wrapping paper, or the frozen tundra. He’ll find it difficult to make an early impact. The endless internal election will have robbed him of any novelty value; and by the time the pandemic is over, Boris will have reduced the vocabulary of politics to that of a Channel 5 football pundit who’s spent a week in a holiday cottage with low doorways.

Perhaps the prospect of meeting your end in an epidemic is different when you have comprehensively fucked your own life up

I had that stress dream last night: where I volunteered to battle the virus face to face. But halfway through the cleaner pulls out the plug on the shrink ray so she can use her Henry Hoover, and I’m left living in a fluff-filled matchbox, having to bathe in a thimble, and go to work on a galloping mouse. Perhaps the prospect of meeting your end in an epidemic is different when you have comprehensively fucked your own life up: part of me thinks that if I die now, I can call this thing a draw.

The whole crisis does raise some interesting questions though: if we all agree that we can’t have the weakest people in society dying as a healthcare system, then why do we tolerate it as an economic system? We see articles about people who have stockpiled hand sanitiser to sell at a markup, but they are the people the system we live in supports, and that is what speculation is. How do we ever find a way out of this within our current system? Drugs need to be developed in the public sector: Big Pharma has no interest in putting itself out of business by creating universal vaccines, and spends more on advertising than research.

Indeed, you have to wonder if the virus is so very different from extractive capitalism. It commandeers the manufacturing elements of its hosts, gets them to make stuff for it; kills a fair few, but not enough to stop it spreading. There is no normal for us to go back to. People sleeping in the streets wasn’t normal; children living in poverty wasn’t normal; neither was our taxes helping to bomb the people of Yemen. Using other people’s lives to pile up objects wasn’t normal, the whole thing was absurd. Governments are currently busy pouring money into propping up existing inequalities, and bailing out businesses that have made their shareholders rich. The world’s worst people think that everybody is going to come out of this in a few months and go willingly back into a kind of numbing servitude. Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.

4th April 2020